Oyster History


 

 

 

History of the oyster

Since Roman times, oysters have been fished and farmed in the UK with shells commonly found in archaeological sites.

"He was a bold man that first ate an oyster"
Jonathon Swift (1667 - 1745), author of the famous book "Gulliver's Travels", essayist and poet, once said: "He was a bold man that first ate an oyster".
 
So who ate the first oyster? We have no idea! However, we do know that...
 
Zoologists believe that the oyster first appeared in the Triassic period (200 million years ago), when dinosaurs ruled the earth. Fossil records show that the oyster dates back 145 million years.
 
Since Roman times (2,000 years ago), the Native Oyster has been fished and farmed in the UK and Europe, with shells commonly found in archaeological sites. For example, at the Roman fort and amphitheatre site in Richborough, Kent (one of the most important Roman sites in England), archaeologists found important pottery, wood, leather, and oyster shells.
 
In the 19th century (1801 - 1900), the UK Native Oyster was abundant, cheap and very, very popular! People included oysters in dishes such as pies, stews and soups. In 1864, over 700 million Native Oysters were consumed in London, and the oyster fisheries employed about 120,000 people across the UK.
 
In the 20th century (1901 - 2000), the UK Native Oyster was severely overfished, and stocks were very low. In 1964, only three million Native Oysters were fished in the UK. In 1965, the Pacific Oyster (native to Japan) was introduced to the UK, by the UK Government under quarantine to replace the very low stocks of the Native Oyster.

By UK law, the UK Native Oyster can only be fished and sold from 1 September to 30 April each year (the UK Native Oyster Season). Outside of these months, the Native Oyster spawns, repopulates, and helps to ensure a sustainable and profitable UK Native Oyster industry. The prolific and commercially successful Pacific Oyster is available for sale all year.
 
Did you know: In 2015, the Pacific Oyster represents over 98% of the world’s harvested oysters, while the Native Oyster represents less than 2%.
 
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How oysters were opened in the mesolithic period
Ever wondered how oysters were opened in the Mesolithic period? Maybe like us, you thought our ancestors collected oysters and bashed or prised them open for hours on end with a rock!
 
Archaeological evidence shows that oysters were placed on the embers of a fire or heated stones, and cooked for a few minutes until the shells popped open. The shells could then by prised apart. In most cases, shells discovered show no evidence of damage caused by tools used to open them, but occasionally show traces of scorch marks consistant with fire.
 
Archaeologists have uncovered oyster shells, and other artefacts such as tiles, pottery, leather and wood on a beach where the Romans may have landed for their invasion of Britain! The beach is located close to one of the most important sites in Britain: the Richborough Roman Fort in Richborough, near Sandwich, Kent, England.

The artefacts found date the beach to about the 4th century (AD 43). Richborough was an important natural harbour in the 4th century. Since then, the channel has silted up.

From the invasion of Briton (AD 43) until the end of Roman rule (in 410), the Romans developed Richborough into a defense site and civil town.

*Romans loved oysters, and oyster shells can be found in many archaeological sites across Britain.
 
In recent times, fishermen off the south coast of England discovered an enormous UK Native Oyster when they pulled in their nets. Experts at the Blue Reef Aquarium (Portsmouth) believe that the oyster was alive for over 200 years, and date the fossil back to about 145 million years. MRI scans show that the oyster contains a round object within, which may be the largest pearl ever found. Experts at the aquarium won't destroy the fossil to find out about the pearl one way or the other. Someone pass me a hammer!